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OSI Support Leads to Maine’s Newest Community Forest

PORTLAND, MAINE – Thanks to grant support from the Open Space Institute (OSI), a new Community Forest is now operating in rural western Maine, in the town of Bethel. Creation of the Community Forest unlocks public access to the adjacent town-owned Bingham Forest and creates a 3,500-acre block of conserved land next to Sunday River Ski resort.

The project, completed by The Trust for Public Land (TPL) in partnership with Mahoosuc Pathways, the Northern Forest Center, and dedicated community members, will expand the town’s network of recreational trails while protecting forest resources.

The 980-acre Bethel Community Forest project, for which TPL and partners raised $2.25 million, protected the land from almost certain development and created a stewardship fund to ensure responsible management and use of the property. Bethel’s population of 2,670 people depend heavily on recreational tourism for their livelihoods.

OSI's Jen Melville (second from right) with conservation partners at Bethel Community Forest.
OSI's Jen Melville (second from right) with conservation partners at Bethel Community Forest.

OSI’s Community Forest Fund, which enables the creation and expansion of community forests in Northern New England, provided support and capital funding to the project. In the Community Forest model, local citizens participate in the planning and management of forests, ensuring that everyone benefits from the land’s many economic, social, and ecological values.

“OSI is proud to have played a part in preserving a vital asset for a town that depends upon and cares so much for its forests,” said Jennifer Melville, vice president for conservation grants at OSI, which granted $130,000 towards the project. “Across New England, citizens are creating Community Forests as an invaluable public legacy, and we congratulate The Trust for Public Land, Mahoosuc Pathways, the Northern Forest Center, and the Town of Bethel on this newest achievement.”

“This project is truly a milestone for the Western Maine community,” said Betsy Cook, Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land. “This new community forest will advance the triple bottom line by growing the local four-season tourism economy, protecting local forestland, and uniting the community around a new shared resource.”

Now the long-term owner of the land, Mahoosuc Pathways worked extensively with the local community on advocating and planning the formation of Bethel Community Forest. The Northern Forest Center also led a committee of local residents to plan how the community would use the property and manage it.

“The new community forest will provide important support to the Bethel area’s growing tourism economy and create a recreation hub for all types of trail uses, including close-to-home hiking, biking, and skiing opportunities,” said Julie Renaud Evans, program director at the Northern Forest Center.

This large area of conserved land will also serve the local community by providing a large natural area for outdoor education and promote healthy living with easy access to non-motorized outdoor recreation.

In addition to the OSI grant, funding for this project was provided by The U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space program, The State of Maine’s Land for Maine’s Future Program, The Betterment Fund, The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, The Quimby Family Foundation, and more than one hundred generous individuals, companies, and foundations.

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